Expert Answer: Nutrition and Managing Menopause
Written by Margaret Brown, RDN; a Mayo Clinic registered dietitian nutritionist
You’ve reached menopause- are you discouraged? Have you gained weight over the past few years? Are you losing sleep, stressed or irritable? Having hot flashes yet? When was the last time you followed thru with a planned workout? Are you worried about retirement, health insurance, caring for your family, caring for your parents or a loved one? Many of these worries are common as we approach and enter menopause. There is never a better time than the present to get back on track with your health and fitness as you look forward to the years ahead.
It goes without saying that major changes take place in your body as you transition to menopause. Your ovaries contain less eggs and the levels of hormones they produce (estrogen and progesterone) start to fluctuate dramatically until eventually they drop to very low levels. This triggers many changes from within your body such as- irregular periods, hot flashes, night sweats, skin changes, problems sleeping, weight gain, loss of muscle mass, vaginal dryness, changing interests in sex, memory and concentration issues and mood swings.
The time leading up to menopause (peri-menopause) is a wonderful opportunity to lose a few extra pounds in preparation for menopause. Many women gain weight during menopause. Long time weight management strategies that used to work may no longer be effective for weight maintenance.
Maintaining physical fitness and increased activity are a must at this time to manage weight. The decline in estrogen during menopause is linked to added visceral fat that accumulates in your midsection during menopause. This type of fat is linked to chronic disease such as certain cancers (endometrial, breast, uterine and more) as well as diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease. Exercise may help reduce hot flashes, stress and anxiety as well as improve your memory.
You are much more than just your body weight on the scale. Accept and embrace the new you- strive to be “happy and as healthy “ as you can be before, during and after menopause by finding balance in your life thru healthy eating, positive relationships and emotional, spiritual and physical well-being.
Top 10 Tips for Managing Nutrition and Menopause
- Maintain the healthiest weight you can before, during and after menopause. Research shows that even a 5-10% decline in your body weight can positively impact your health risks.
- Eat quality/manage quantity- Monitor portion sizes and manage total calories now more than ever. Start to journal your food/beverage intake using a Fitness App to monitor important micro and macro nutrients such as calcium and saturated fat if this helps you. Focus on whole foods, colorful vegetables, fruits and whole grains, lean proteins and healthy fats and oils.
- Maintain adequate calcium and vitamin D intake to prevent bone loss. Women ages 51-70 years generally require 1200 mg calcium and at least 600 IU vitamin D daily. While the best way to absorb vitamins and minerals is thru foods first, a calcium supplement is likely needed thru menopause to assure optimal bone health. Discuss this with your Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN) or with your Physician or Health Care Provider at your next exam. In the meantime, include healthy variety of food sources of calcium daily such as- low fat yogurt or dairy, green leafy vegetables, calcium fortified cereals, tofu and beans. Take a daily MVI with minerals as an insurance policy for adequate consumption of essential vitamins and minerals
- Caution with hot and spicy foods as they can trigger hot flashes. If you prefer bolder tastes then look to fresh/mild herbs to provide flavor.
- Minimize your caffeine. Hot drinks, caffeine and alcohol can bring on hot flashes- a recent Mayo Clinic study found that post-menopausal women who drank caffeinated beverages (coffee, tea or soda) experienced more bothersome hot flashes and night sweats than post-menopausal women who did not consume caffeine. Don’t forget cold or infused waters are zero calorie hydrating beverages and very refreshing.
- Avoid smoking, alcohol, caffeine and large meals too close to bedtime. Limit alcohol to no more than one drink daily (4 oz of wine, 12 oz beer, 1 oz/shot of hard liquor)
- Have a game plan- Make a 1:1 appointment with a qualified Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN) to establish a menopause nutrition plan for you. There are many nutrition options available such as DASH, Mediterranean or even a plant based diet to manage menopause and ward off other chronic diseases.
- Get your body composition evaluated. Ask a qualified health care professional to assess your body composition for visceral fat, body fat and lean muscle mass and metabolic age vs the age old scale. Improvements in body composition can boost moral during menopause and challenge yourself in another way to stay fit
- Monitor critical lab work such as your blood sugars, lipid profile (particularly LDL and HDL cholesterol), blood pressure and inflammatory markers
- Manage sleep and stress. Most adults need 7-8 hours nightly. Lack of sleep is associated with weight gain, reduced immunity and increased risk of heart disease, diabetes, obesity and high blood pressure
What lifestyle changes or habits have you focused on recently?